Diversity and Diversity
Attending the Convention is an impressive collection of people from across the county concerned and working on diverse issues using a range of strategies and tactics. “Democracy” is defined in different ways with varied degrees of emphasis. Subsuming corporations to We the People is also seen from various lights.
I participated in a range of gatherings:
1. It starting in the AM with participating on a panel addressing water as a fundamental right for people and nature – from local to global. To indigenous people, as explained by Alberto Saldamando of the International Indian Treaty Council, rights are not as much granted or endowed as they are fought for and claimed. In fact, rights are seen as collective more than individual. Property, too, is a concept to indigenous people not of ownership, but of relationships. Corporate ownership and commodification of water, therefore, is an alien concept.
I reported on the status of Ohio’s effort to comply with the Great Lakes Compact, which seeks to legalize how 8 states and 2 Canadian Provinces manage the use of and protect the Great Lakes Basin’s water supply the compact requires each state to decide by 2013 how Lake Erie waters are to be used. Earlier this summer, the Ohio General Assembly passed legislation that would allow businesses with withdrawal up to 5 million gallons of water a day from Lake Erie before needing a permit – a blatant violation of the original compact. Gov. Kucinich vetoed the legislation after public and media opposition, as well as criticism from former governors Taft and Voinovich. A revised bill is likely to be reintroduced later. I also spoke about the general trend in Ohio to privatize/corporatize many public assets in the state.
Nancy Price and Ruth Caplan from the Alliance for Democracy followed with descriptions of legislative attempts to protect California water supplies, successful resistance by Bolivians and others to corporatize water, passage of local ordinances in the US proclaiming that water has rights, and how global water corporations have sought to control water sources and systems by formed global groupings (from the Multinational Agreement on Investments, to the General Agreement on Trade and Services to the World Trade Organization to Bilateral Trade Agreements).
I concluding by affirming how corporations seek to escape democratic control in 3 ways: by shifting decision making from a lower level of government to a higher level (i.e. state to nation, nation to international), by shifting decision making from legislators to the courts, and by shifting decision making from the legislators to regulatory agencies.
2. The afternoon began with an impressive plenary on racial equality in the struggle for democracy and against corporate rule. Panelists shared their visions of what racial equality looked like in democracy, whether they felt we were moving forward or backwards in the struggle for racial equality, what specific work for equality they were involved in, and specific recommendations they felt we needed to be doing for racial just democracy. On the last point, a few of the suggestions were:
- Commitment to more self-work to address racism and white privilege among white participants
- Integration of race, gender, class and ability in all our analysis
- Acknowledgement that we will not share the same exact vision for the future
- Authentic inclusion of people of color in our organizations and work
- Real individual and organizational support for communities of color in their organizing activities
- Address fundamental structural impediments to equality (of which corporate personhood is one)
3. The afternoon ended with an intense 3-hour workshop on connecting mental health and racial oppression, which was a deeply moving sharing of personal experiences and assessment of macro blockages to self-expression – which included both governmental and corporate sources.
4. Diversity was in full mode this evening as conference participants mingled with incoming first year students on the main campus at the University of Wisconsin for an evening of music.
It the goal of the day was to stretch, bend and push our intellects and emotions by forcing us to be in unfamiliar yet supportive places, it was very successful.